Saying it had only recently been made aware of a spike in “no cause” 60-day eviction notices and 30-day rent increases, the South Pasadena City Council on Nov. 6 unanimously adopted an “urgency ordinance” temporarily restricting the basis on which city landlords can terminate tenancies to what the ordinance calls “just cause.”
The vote came during a standing-room only City Council meeting packed with at least 85 citizens, many holding signs and applauding each of the two dozen speakers who came to the podium to support the measure by offering a mix of tearful, personal, political and sharply worded statements.
These included several of the evictees themselves, who emphasized their years of residency and love of life in South Pasadena. They described the complications and indignities the notices have brought, such as trying to find new and affordable homes, the disruption to children’s school years, and the insult of receiving notice just as the holidays approach. Some notices were hand-delivered to children or arrived on holidays or birthdays. Some speakers also complained of harassment and badgering from landlords.
The city also received at least nine emails in support of the ordinance from evictees and their supporters, including one from Betty Emirhanian, president of Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action. Although writing on her own behalf, advocates said significant community support for the ordinance was catalyzed during WISPPA’s Nov. 2 annual meeting.
About half the city’s 11,000 housing units are renter-occupied.
Similar to those recently passed in Pasadena, Pomona and Los Angeles–where eviction notices have been served on dozens of buildings—the ordinance came as landlords throughout the state look to rid themselves of below market tenants and establish new rates for rental properties ahead of the Jan. 1 implementation of the Tenant Protection Act.
The TPA, meant to prevent rent gouging and unfair evictions, sets a 5 percent annual rent cap, plus inflation; requires relocation payments; and sets a statutory just-cause requirement for evictions of renters in good standing for at least one year.
The evictions began Sept. 11, when the state Senate approved Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco)’s AB 1428. Chiu was unable to secure the two-thirds majority required to make the bill effective immediately, leaving landlords a three-and-half-month window of opportunity to evict tenants without cause and set new rental rates.
In addition to condemning the evictions, Chiu released a statement saying that landlords had to act no later than Nov. 2 to avoid the bill’s restriction on 60-day eviction notices.
South Pasadena’s moratorium is effective until the TPA takes effect. Those who have received eviction notices and are still in their homes, either because the notice period is still running or because of pending unlawful detainer proceedings, are also protected. Those who’ve already moved out are out of luck.
Neither the city nor its housing services contractor had figures for how many renters, buildings or units have been affected. But South Pasadenan Anne Bagasao, who has been working closely with many of those being evicted, said that in recent weeks renters at no fewer than seven addresses in town have received notices, comprising at least 30 separate units. About half of the 30 tenants have already moved, Bagasao estimated.
The properties include the five-unit building at 334 Pasadena Ave., purchased Oct. 1 for $1.9 million by Kenneth P. Zuckerman and Jonathan D. Wong, both of Oakland; and the 32-unit structure at 635 Prospect Ave., which is owned and operated by companies controlled by Steven C. Botsford of Pasadena, president of Anchor Pacifica and other companies. It was purchased this year for $11 million.
Anchor Pacifica, whose 24 rental properties in the region also include five in Pasadena, is currently advertising one-bedroom units at 635 Prospect for $2,225 per month. In Advertising copy posted prior to the sale of 334 Pasadena Ave, agents wrote the building “boasts a 70 percent upside in rents” and that the new buyer would enjoy a gross rate multiplier (GRM) of 13.85, compared to its pre-sale 24.29 GRM. The GRM is the number of years the property will take to pay for itself in gross rent receipts.
Larry Estrada, “a soon-to-be-ex-tenant” of 635 Prospect, told the Council one of the reasons he moved there in 2009 was due to its location near the Gold Line, easing his commute to Los Angeles. He described coming home after Day Light Savings Time ended. “Part of the building that faces Prospect Avenue was all dark, except my corner where there were two lights on–mine and the tenant below me.”
It was an “uncomfortable feeling,” he said. “Where is everyone? They were just there, and they moved on.”
“I don’t begrudge the owners for wanting to make a profit. Why not? This is America, right? Make a profit. But was there consideration about how you’re going to make that? The impact your going to have on those individuals?”
Peter Mendenhall, a local homeowner who like many others came to express solidarity with those being evicted, told the Council “You have a chance tonight to stem the tide” of what he called the “hollowing out of the middle class” in South Pasadena.
Student and single mother Rachel Hamilton, who’s special needs son was handed a 60-day eviction notice on Halloween Day at their Park Avenue home, said her family has been active “in our beautiful community,” having cooked and brought food to the police and fire departments, and participated in the city’s summer reading program, 4th of July Balloon Parade and Snow Day. “We are as much a part of the city of South Pasadena as each of you are.”
The only speaker who did not advocate for the ordinance was Alex Schroeder, principal of South Pasadena-based Flying Buffalo Investments LLC, who said his family owns four buildings with 33 units in town. None of his tenants were in the crowd, he noted.
Schroeder told the Council he issued two 60-day notices but that his family had “already agreed we are not going to evict.” The notices, he explained later, are aimed at starting a dialogue with the tenants, not a demand to leave. One of noticed tenants, he said, is paying rent fifty percent below market.
Schroeder cautioned the Council that passing the ordinance could have “unintended consequences” particularly, he said in a later interview, on prospective new investments in city housing.
Are West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills or Berkeley “bigger and stronger” communities because of the rent stabilization and control initiatives they’ve approved, he asked. Or is there less housing because one of two similar neighboring units can rent for only half what the other does?
Schroeder noted that neither of the state’s two landlord organizations, the California Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles were present for the meeting “because they agreed not to fight” such ordinances when the bill passed.
He also argued “we as landlords–our hands are tied. We can’t do anything.”
Schroeder went on to note that his family wanted to expand its eight-unit building on Monterey Road, but was blocked from doing so by the city’s Planning Board. He implored the Council not to fault the “families that own buildings. Please don’t hurt us.”
In a related action Nov. 6, the City Council approved an expansion of its outreach efforts in response to the pending evictions and rent increases. “City leaders responding to unintended consequences of a well-intentioned state law are working to bring all parties together and asking them to negotiate in good faith,” a staff report said.
The report disclosed the formation of an ad hoc committee consisting of Mayor Marina Khubesrian and Councilman Richard Cacciotti which it said has engaged both tenants, including those at 635 Prospect, and landlords to discuss alternative courses of action. It also summarized a set of housing initiatives the city undertook in September including a relocation assistance program; an occupancy inspection program; accessory dwelling units; and inclusionary housing.
The city also highlighted its contract with the Housing Rights Center to provide free fair housing services. Although the city approved the staff recommendation to expand its services through the HRC, it did not actually approve a resolution or ordinance or authorize any new funding.
Residents can contact the HRC at 800-477-5977 or visit its regional office at 1020 N. Fair Oaks Ave.